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Spirituality Today: What’s old is new—forgiveness

Created date

March 30th, 2009

Twenty years ago, standing in the social sciences building at the University of Maryland, I pushed for an answer: So what is your dissertation?

My schoolmate, a doctoral candidate in rehabilitation counseling, grimaced: My first proposal went down in flames. I wanted to research the role of forgiveness in recovery, but my advisor says that it s too religious and not researchable!

Two decades later, students at Columbia University take coursework in e Psychology of Close Relationships including the role of forgiveness. Today at Stanford University, Frederic Lushkin trains people in The Nine Steps to Forgiveness. Every day in London people discover e Forgiveness Project a charity that looks for alternatives to revenge. I whisper to myself: What s old is new

Deliverance from bondage

The root word for Passover means to pass by, to spare, and its festival commemorates deliverance from bondage. e prophet Daniel and the apostle Paul teach us that deliverance is possible because the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving inspiring us to be kind and compassionate forgiving each other. Spiritual notions, such as these, connect with behavioral theory.

In that same social sciences building where my friend stood stoop-shouldered, I was lectured that there are three overlapping ways to cope with problems: changing the stressor, changing the meaning of the stressor, and changing the self.

When I think of the fi rst idea, I find myself admiring Tuvya Bielski and the partisans who fought the Nazis from the forest. When I think of the third approach, I nod with appreciation toward Viktor Frankl, who helped people survive the camps by looking for meaning in their suffering. And if forgiveness might be a way to reframe our problems the middle method I am humbled to read versions of the prayer reportedly found near a dead child at Ravensbruck:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of evil will. But do not remember all the suff ering they have infl icted upon us; remember the fruits we have borne: our comradeship loyalty humility courage generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this [W]hen they come to the judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.